Tanuf Star Party & other Astro Ramblings
(A non too logical mix of astro images I made in 2000)

I joined the Ras al Hamra Club astro section on its star party to Jebel Tanuf on the night of 28/29th September 2000. Our fearless leader (who shall remain nameless!) led us to join the track zig-zagging up the jebel below, behind the red and white sign. And we promptly got lost! OK, he is excused. It was still daylight and he could not see the stars to navigate by. One could see the track, though... Second attempt was successful and we slowly wound our way up to the 2000+ meter elevation campsite.

Road from Tanuf village
It's a long, rugged drive. Photo below taken on the way back in the morning:
Road to Campsite
Milky Way Thumbnail
Unfortunately there was light cloud throughout the evening, clearing up to a superb sky only after midnight. Since most of our campers prefer a good night's rest (not exactly a bunch of determined astronomers!) most were asleep by then. Nevertheless I managed to take some Milky Way photos in the early evening. Two of them are shown spliced below, each a 20 minute exposure on Fuji 800 colour negative film, 14mm/2.8 Tamron lens wide open. The camera was piggy-backed on my Celestron Ultima 2000-8" on an equatorial wedge, to track the sky. The small version above is to hint at what's coming, in case the main photo is still downloading ever so slowly by camel train ;-) Sorry for the long download time; the image has to be at least this big in order to see much of anything. The two photos span all the way from Antares in the south, just above the horizon, right up to almost Polaris (which is just outside the top right of the photo). Even at the diminished resolution used here for the web, it is possible to just make out the red North America Nebula to the upper left of Deneb. See the reddish patch?
Milky Way
 Also note the Galactic Center (of our Milky Way galaxy) which is just off the brightest patch because of some dark intra-galactic clouds (nebulae) getting in the way of our line-of-sight. Actually it's rather interesting the way our Earthly clouds mingle with the star clouds of the Milky Way. The Earthly clouds near the horizon are also lit up by light pollution from the town of Nizwa, some 30km away. Below is a photo of the campsite the next morning:
Our galaxy, the Milky Way is believed to be fairly similar to the Andromeda Galaxy, M31, which is about 2.3 million light years away. M31 is part of our "Local Group" of galaxies and, if you know exactly where to look, you can just about make out its faint hazy glow from a dark sky site. Actually, what we make out is the glow of its central bulge/core. Binoculars help in gathering more light and the glow is then very obvious. But M31 subtends a large angle and the image below was taken with a STANDARD(!) 50mm/1.8 lens for a Canon EOS 35mm camera. Who says you need a telescope to take photos of galaxies?! In this case the telescope just served as a piggy-back mount, in a manner similar to the previous Milky Way shots. Taken from the roof of my house at Ras al Hamra, Muscat. 60 exposures each 30 secs long were accumulated, and even then the outer spiral arms are still too faint to show above our local, urban light pollution. See the same-scale chart lower down which traces a considerably larger outline for M31. This is my first attempt at imaging anything outside our Milky Way. One can say that this astrophotography business indeed needs a lot of patience... For Heaven's sake, how many hours exposure is enough?!
Andromeda Galaxy, M31
Sky chart of the area covered follows, note also the smaller galaxies, M32 and M110. The red circle shows the angular size of the Moon at the same scale. Isn't the angular size of M31 just astounding? Never mind the fact that it contains over a billion stars! An interesting peculiarity. Notice the red star (on the chart) just outside the outline of M31 on the upper right? Because the CCD used is overly sensitive to red and infrared, this star just lights up like a beacon in the photo compared to similarly-sized blobs on other stars. The blobs on the chart are sized relative to "visual" magnitudes, i.e. excluding infrared.
Sky Chart of M31 region
OK, if you insist on pictures through a telescope, here is an image of Jupiter, taken with the same PixCel 237 CCD and the Celestron Ultima 2000-8" at f20, effective focal length around 4000mm. 3 RGB images combined:
Jupiter RGB or do you prefer a monochromatic Saturn?Monochromatic Saturn
Notice the shadow of the rings on Saturn? And the shadow of the planet on the rings? Rambling onto the double-double star at Epsilon Lyrae, taken at f10. the pairs are separated by 208 arc-seconds and each pair is roughly 2.5 arc-secs wide. To the naked eye the four appear like a single star.:
Epsilon Lyrae double-double star
The seeing was quite lousy and I had to combine 3 monochromatic images to obtain the above result. By the way, the theoretical diffraction limit of the telescope used is around 0.7arc-sec so, at this magnification, things are approaching the limit.

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